Wednesday. 27/11/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Jamie Waters

Happy shopper

Last week I went shopping during a short trip to New York. I had a particular destination in mind: the new shop by menswear brand 18 East. But as it isn’t registered on CityMapper, it took me a while to find. And no wonder: it’s on a quiet street in Chinatown beneath a grass-green awning bearing the words, “Ming Beauty Salon Inc”. Inside, where massage tables and nail baths once stood, there are now racks of chunky rollnecks and pleated trousers, and wooden pallets laden with beanies and totes.

Whoever says that New York retail is dead hasn’t been to Chinatown, with its intoxicating mix of chaos and calm. Other recent menswear additions to the neighbourhood, such as Bode and Aimé Leon Dore, are in more prominent positions. And yet there’s a definite sense of discovery here. The most unlikely shopping spot, which I first visited a couple of years ago, is on the top floor of New York Mart Mall (a Chinese shopping centre) near Manhattan Bridge. Past dozens of thronged food vendors and up a raggedy staircase is a lovely record shop and several vintage boutiques.

This sense of adventure is partly born of necessity: rents are cheaper if you’re hidden on the top floor of a mall or tucked away on a sleepy side street. But in an era when everything is at our fingertips, it’s exciting when we have to work to find the things we want. We just need a nudge in the right direction.

Politics / Hong Kong

Turning point?

It’s been three days since Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp swept up a majority of seats in district-council elections. The result signalled a tectonic shift in the city’s political landscape and, for the first time, clear and overwhelming dissatisfaction with the city’s government. Now it’s up to chief executive Carrie Lam to respond pragmatically or risk adding fuel to the fire of the protest movement. “In any other country, if there is a landslide defeat against the establishment, the leader bears the political responsibility,” the chairman of Hong Kong’s Democratic party, Wu Chi-wai (pictured), tells The Monocle Minute. In Hong Kong’s case that means responding to the protesters’ five key demands. One of these is setting up an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, which Wu says is “the most supported approach moving forwards”, according to polls. That would at least mark the beginning of a constructive way out of this morass.

Cities / San Francisco

Money for nothing

New York might be the epicentre of the so-called “retail apocalypse” but San Francisco has plenty of vacant shopfronts too. As a result the city has agreed to ask voters in March whether a tax should be imposed on empty lots. The levy, which would be determined by the size of the shop and duration of the vacancy, would punish landlords who sit on empty properties in search of higher rents.

Sceptics warn that the tax won’t solve all of the city’s woes; municipal red tape also hinders the filling of these empty spaces. If San Franciscans vote in favour of the tax when they head to the polls, cities everywhere will be keeping close tabs on how effective it proves to be.

Design / Japan

Jeep thrills

Those lucky enough to have secured the latest Suzuki Jimny, which launched in 2018 and sold out globally soon after, will agree when we say that the compact SUV is both a joy to drive and a design triumph. Those who haven’t yet revved a Jimny engine (as well as those who have) should turn to the Design section in issue 129 of Monocle, on newsstands now, in which we discover the appeal of this Japanese off-roader. We report from the Suzuki Carnival in rural Hamamatsu – where Jimny enthusiasts gather to race souped-up versions of vintage models on a river bank – and meet the new model’s chief engineer at the Tokyo Motor Show. In doing so we explore the world of this most mighty micro machine, which proves that style and utility aren’t limited by size.

Culture / New York

Screen saver

Most people think of Netflix as a scourge of bricks-and-mortar cinema rather than its saviour but one development this week might change minds. The streaming company has signed a lease to reopen the storied Paris Theater in New York; the cinema first welcomed guests in 1948 and Netflix says that it is the city’s last remaining single-screen cinemas. The arthouse venue closed in the summer but was revived by Netflix for a series of screenings in August. Now the technology firm says that it will keep the cinema open to host events and showcase its own exclusive films. Perhaps one reason for the move is that some major cinema chains have been demanding exclusive rights to Netflix movies for a 12-week period – but we’re still counting this as a win for both traditional cinema and a historic city building.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 162: Berlin, Neukölln

Monocle’s Jad Salfiti takes us to the district of Neukölln in southeast Berlin, where the food-and-drink scene is flourishing.

Monocle Films / Italy

Speciality retail: Verona

This Italian city has a long tradition of typography – and the business still has a story to tell. Letterpress workshop-cum-store Lino’s & Co updates old machines with 3D-printed movable type.

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